"So when exactly did you first fall in love with me?"
Snape's obsidian gaze abandoned the flickering images on the telly screen in favour of Harry's popcorn-stuffed face. The brat had been slowly working his way through a seemingly bottomless bowl of the noxious material as they sat in their parlour watching Monty Python's The Meaning of Life. This film wasn't quite as funny as the others, in Snape's mind, though he rather enjoyed Harry's uproarious laughter at the scene involving the explosion of the massive Muggle restaurant patron. Apparently the man reminded him of his cousin.
Harry had once told him that he looked forward to hearing Snape's laugh, and at the time Snape had considered the statement rather barmy. Now that he heard Harry's on a regular basis, however, Snape had to admit he understood the desire. There was something powerful about the simple sound of laughter, especially now.
Even though it had been expected, the escalation in Death Eater activity after a blissful months-long respite was a blow to the morale of the forces of the light. For weeks, Harry and Snape returned home exhausted every night from raids which took them far from this small haven. On this, their first day off in some time, Harry had declared a "movie night" and insisted they spend some time devoted to silliness.
Snape never knew how much he needed a little silliness in his life. And a few other things besides.
"Are you all right?" Harry's soft words jerked Snape out of his reverie.
Snape shook his head to clear it. "Fine," he grumbled. A flicker of something crossed Harry's features, then disappeared. He ate more popcorn, but with diminished gusto.
The film played out in front of them while Snape silently cursed himself. He was no good at this; what had ever made him think he could manage to navigate the minefield that was a romantic relationship? Discussing his emotions was anathema to him; every time he tried to express what he was feeling, his tongue cleaved to the roof of his mouth and his brain froze inside his skull. There was nothing for it.
There is something for it, damn you, some tiny, rebellious part of Snape countered. Open your bloody mouth and speak.
His jaw felt as though it were weighted down with lead as he forced it to move. "Harry, I—"
"It's OK," Harry said swiftly, his gaze still glued to the screen. "It was a foolish thing to ask, I know."
"Please," Harry said quietly, turning to Snape now, his expression earnest, "please let's forget it. I don't need you to say those things to me, honestly. I know it's hard for you, and I know how you feel without all of that romantic nonsense."
"Nevertheless," Snape said, his throat tight, "I should say them."
One corner of Harry's mouth twitched. "Who told you that? The Relationship Fairy?"
Snape opened his mouth, then closed it with a snap. "Flippancy does not become you."
"I'm trying to make light of it because you're taking this much too seriously."
"It is serious!" Snape was on his feet before he even realised it. Suddenly, he was towering above the man on the couch, his fists clenched, his cheeks flushed, his chest heaving as though he'd run a mile. "It's not your bloody fault I'm too crippled to tell you how much I love you! You deserve better than that!"
Snape couldn't quite figure out why Harry's face broke into a huge, somewhat idiotic grin at that. Hadn't he just said he was completely incompetent? Hadn't he just said—
"Are you finished?" Harry said gently.
Snape unclenched his fists and closed his eyes.
"No." He took a deep breath and plunged ahead without conscious thought. "I believe the first time I realised I had fallen in love with you was that day in the garden in Pittsburgh. You began speaking to the snake in Parseltongue and I marveled once more at how differently the language sounds in your mouth than it does in Voldemort's. When you speak it, it becomes a thing of beauty, perhaps because while you have been touched by evil, you have never embraced it.
"Then you calmly informed me that you had understood I was unwilling to bed you the night before, and that you decided to call a halt because your happiness could not be gotten at the price of another's. I was, of course, mortified that I had been so easily duped by a teenage boy, but also inexplicably—warmed—by the gesture. You see—" he gulped air, determined not to lose his momentum "—I could not remember the last time anyone had put my needs ahead of their own."
Snape's entire body was trembling now, but now that the floodgates had been opened, he could not seem to stop the torrent. "And now, I want more than anything to be able to reciprocate, to give you all that you require without thought of my own—difficulties, my own—shortcomings. But it's not unlike being caught in a quagmire. The more I struggle to free myself, the more thoroughly I am trapped."
Snape heard the rustle of fabric, and then the presence of a warm body wrapped around his. "How 'bout I throw you a rope?" Harry whispered against his ear.
Snape's only answer was to twine his arms around Harry and hang on for dear life.
"You want to know what my wildest fantasy about you was?"
"Mm," Snape grunted. His fingers, which had been stroking through Harry's wild, sweat-damp hair, were slowing as he drifted into sleep. His eyelids drooped, and his breathing began to even out.
Right before he lost consciousness, he felt the press of lips against his temple.
"This," whispered his lover. "Just this."